It is written:
Philippians 2:9-11-Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In this passage, the Bible teaches that God is willing to extend forgiveness even to those who are physically dead.
The Apostle Paul here is encouraging the Christians to love each other as the people of God. He uses Jesus as the perfect Example of this lovingkindness. Jesus was willing to come to this world of suffering and death, knowing that He would experience pain, temptation, humiliation, rejection, and the ultimate horrible fate of bearing the sins of mankind.
Philippians 2:5-8-Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
What an amazing display of love and what a powerful example for Christians! Paul then goes on to point out that God highly exalted Jesus for His amazing grace and willingness to become the Savior.
Paul then quotes from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah:
Isaiah 45:22-25-Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. 24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him. 25 In the LORD all the descendants of Israel Shall be justified, and shall glory.’ “
Paul quotes this passage nearly verbatim from the Greek Old Testament in Philippians 2.
What does this teach us?
First, the invitation of God in Isaiah is an invitation for sinners to be saved. When people would accept this loving offer of God, they would bow their knee and take an oath to God. Clearly, this is the idea of willing submission to the Lord.
Second, Isaiah tells us that this offer is extended to “all of the ends of the Earth.” Paul interprets that phrase for us as including “those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth.” The phrase “in heaven” is parallel to what Paul had written in Colossians 1:16 which included “thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” (first century Jewish expressions denoting angelic beings). The phrase “on Earth” has reference to beings on the planet Earth, while the phrase “under the Earth” had reference to the dead who were in the realm of Hades.
Paul here is clearly referring to a three-fold description of existence in this passage: Heaven, Earth, and Hades. Furthermore, we are told in other passages of Scripture that the phrase “under the Earth” has reference to those in Hades (cf. Revelation 5:3, 13), and this phrase was used throughout the Bible, Jewish literature, and the church fathers as a description of the dead in the realm of Sheol/Hades.
So Paul interprets God’s invitation of salvation to sinners and prophesied by Isaiah as extending to those who are physically dead and whose souls are in the realm of Hades.
It is often argued that those in Hades will not willingly bow their knee to the Lord,and hence will be forced to submit. However, the text from Isaiah is clear that those who bow and take an oath do so in response to God’s invitation to be saved. Furthermore, when they take their oath to the Lord, the text in Isaiah makes it clear that these sinners are ashamed of their sin and thus demonstrate repentance.
Even more to the point, the language of the text in Philippians argues against some kind of forced submission to the Lord. One researcher has well noted:
“But the idea of a forced confession does not square with the meaning of the Greek word Exomologeo (Strong’s 1843) used in this passage.[ 63] According to Vincent, the word translated “confess” in v. 11 has the idea of “frank, open confession” and then goes on to say, “There is no objection to adding the idea with thanksgiving…”[ 64] The same Greek word… is used in Rom 14: 11 where the NASB translates it as “give praise”. Vincent’s comment on this Greek word in Rom 14: 11 is illuminating. Primarily to acknowledge, confess, or profess from… the heart. To make a confession to one’s honor; thence to praise.[ 65]-Marvin Vincent It’s hard to imagine someone professing “from the heart” or confessing “to one’s honor; thence to praise” if the worship is forced. Further, there’s no example in the NT where the word translated as “confess” (exomologeo) in Phil 2: 11 means anything but a voluntary confession. Every use of the word [exomologeo] in the New Testament connotes a voluntary confession. This includes all the cognate verbs, homologeo; and the related noun, homologia. Inherent in the nature of confession is willing and, sometimes, joyful acknowledgment. It will not do to suppose that the humble confession of Phil. 2: 11 is a reluctant and forced confession from Jesus’ conquered enemies.[ 66] (emphasis mine)-Thomas Johnson Consider too that Paul is quoting from Isaiah 45: 23 and there is no hint of forced worship in this passage for a couple of reasons: 1. In Isa 45: 22, God says, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth…” which not only proves the worship Paul speaks of is voluntary, it further supports the universalistic interpretation. 2. In v. 24, God says, “They will say of me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’” These aren’t exactly the words of a defeated enemy being forced to admit allegiance. Finally, does anyone believe for one second that God would accept forced (i.e. false) worship? If God rejects the sacrifices from His own people if they come with impure hearts and/ or motives, why does anyone think He’ll accept the coerced worship of a subjected soul?” (David Burnfield, Patristic Universalism: An Alternative to the Traditional View of Divine Judgment, 1015-1050 (Kindle Edition); Boca Raton, Florida; Universal-Publishers)
God extends the offer of salvation to His entire creation. Even with this knowledge, we are reminded that some will reject the Gospel of Jesus (Matthew 8:11-12).
Souls will not be lost because of an unwillingness of God to forgive them. Instead, they will be lost because of continual wickedness and rebellion against God.
Let’s make it our aim to serve God while we have opportunity today.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.